His love of spirits started early. He was fascinated by the multitudes of products available, all unique tasting with beautiful bottles and labels. It was as much about the art of the packaging as the taste. After years of experimentation with different wines and alcohols, he was given the opportunity to join a distillery already established on San Francisco’s Treasure Island. Treasure Island Distillery started in the old Navy Brig and was without a still. Carter, having built dozens of stills large and small, was already gathering the necessary materials for building a production still in hopes of starting his own distillery. When this opportunity presented itself it was a match made in heaven. He continued to fabricate the stills from scratch; machining every single part from raw bars of metal. He built the main production still and the ¼ scale lab version for making test batches. Most of the complementary equipment for the distillery was also fabricated from scratch.
The first product released was absinthe, a spirit banned for most of the 20th century and finally legalized in 2007. Carter started researching absinthe in 1985 after hearing about it in a movie. After years of experimentation, he finally came up with what is undeniably the best absinthe on the market. Absinthe is an herbal spirit made with grand wormwood, anise seed and fennel seed. It is then colored naturally with Roman wormwood, hyssop and lemon balm. Grand wormwood is a very bitter herb that has been used for ages in herbal medicine. In absinthe it adds a nice woody, subtly bitter taste. The main flavor of absinthe is anise, which has a licorice flavor. Even though there is no sugar in Emperor Norton Absinthe Dieu, it has a slightly sweet taste.
Next came Bummer and Lazarus Gin, and now Barbary Coast Rhum Agricole, and a vodka on the way.
The still is a hybrid designed by Carter Raff. It can be used for many different types of alcohol. Typically if one were to make vodka, they would use a column still, also referred to as a fractioning still. These stills use plates or packing to create more surface area for the alcohol/water molecules to cling to, thereby allowing it to continually distill the same liquid over and over, achieving a more refined, clean product. To make anything else that retains its flavor a pot still or alembic would be used. The hybrid still built by Carter allows it to be used as either a fractioning column or a pot still.